Regal Pelargonium ‘Olivia’ is in intensive care!

Fibrex Nurseries write about “Genetics, over production, old age & new beginnings”

By Heather Goddard-Key

On behalf of Fibrex Nurseries here is my first ever blog. I swore I’d never do it, but they asked so nicely I couldn’t refuse.

For the benefit of the many and by way of an introduction I am Heather. Not a heather – although I love them dearly, just Heather thanks to prophetic parents. I tweet for the nursery, and am fairly integral when it comes to running things here in Pebworth.

But this isn’t a blog about me, so I’ll stop there. It’s a blog about the various roles the nursery plays as a National Collection holder (we have two) and as exhibitors at the many shows throughout the year – Chelsea, Hampton Court etc…(14 gold medals last year, thank you very much!) Fibrex is also a regular nursery serving the public, and a mail order company sending out plants throughout the UK and Europe. There are many, many challenges with juggling the need of growing plants for commercial gain and for conservation. The necessity of the first making the second possible, as the collections are both funded by the nursery with no external source of finance at all, and believe me, it costs money!

The National Pelargonium Collection

The National Pelargonium Collection

The National Pelargonium Collection is – as far as we know – the largest single genus collection of plants in the world. It’s a HUGE responsibility, and from time to time we encounter the sad occasion of losing one of the collection. It happens, we can’t deny it.

There are many factors, weather being only one of the many, that all play a part in growing plants. Soil or compost, feed, water.. these are always obvious contenders for blame when things go wrong.

Time traveling cuttings

Pelargonium: ‘Lord Bute’ is 105 years old!

‘Lord Bute’ is 105 years old!

However, the genetic stock – and this is very important when dealing with a crop that is in most part cutting raised – can slowly but surely break down. Consider the natural age of your regular shrub, if it’s over 100 years old, you’d be pretty impressed.

Any cuttings taken from that plant, and then from those cuttings, and again and again over the course of many years would have the same biological age as the original stock plant. So in some cases a cutting taken this morning can actually be 291 years old. How’s that for time travel!

Scented Pelargonium ‘Odoratissimum’ is 291 years old!

Scented Pelargonium ‘Odoratissimum’ is 291 years old!

Mutating stock

Sometimes the stock will mutate, throw a sport, giving us an entirely new variety or sometimes it will simply adapt ever so slightly, getting stronger with the generations and lasting far longer than anyone thought possible. Sadly this isn’t always the case. Mass production can weaken stock, leaving us with poor cutting material that threatens the whole line. Using Regal Pelargonium ‘Olivia’ as an example, a few years ago we had hundreds. It’s a strong, well grown shrub with no indicators that it was in danger, then almost over night we were left with one plant (now in intensive care but hopefully on the mend). She’ll be back on the lists one day, but it will take a few years!

Regal Pelargonium ‘Olivia’ is in intensive care!

Regal Pelargonium ‘Olivia’ is in intensive care!

Dying of old age

Sometimes the variety just ages, as we all do, reaching its inevitable time limit and despite all our efforts simply keels over. Every last one fading away, usually within weeks, sometimes days, a whole line of plants lost, with little or no warning. Frankly, when it comes to old age, there is nothing we can do.

Sadly, here is a short roll call for some of those that didn’t make it. For whatever reason, these are no longer with us.


New beginnings

Raising new varieties from seed is as important as preserving the old, if only to make sure that when the old ones die out, which they will eventually do, we have lots of lovely newbies to succeed them. Thankfully with our own seed collection, the nursery is flooded with potentials for the collection every year. Plus, thanks to the many amateur growers across the country, and their devotion to hybridisation and the ultimate goal (a truly yellow Pellie), there are plenty of new varieties. After trialling them for a few years, the best of these get added to the collection. We will never be short of material. Space, time, hands & money? Well these are all other factors aren’t they, and we do the best we can.

Some New Kids on the Block…

Find out more about Fibrex and choose from thousands of  Pelargonium varieties here!

Leave me a comment telling me your favourite Pelargonium…

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